The birth of French Feudal Coinage in the 10th century
This text has been written by Mr Tom Oberhofer for the Mail Bid Sale iNumis 47. It will facilitate your visit of our feudal coins and more particularly, our coins of the Birth of French Feudal Coinage. All the coins below are part of this Mail Bid Sale iNumis 47.
In the 9th century coinage in France was strictly controlled by the royal issuers. Louis the Pious went through several coinage types and ended up with his extensive XPISTIANA RELIGIO series which was largely uniform and hard to attribute to individual mints. Charles the Bald likewise had several distinct types and controlled his later coinage by the Edict of Pitres. While many other mints soon joined in producing his GRATIA D-I REX coinage it remained largely uniform and under royal control.
After his death in 877 the Carolingians ran into a series of succession problems and short-lived rulers. As a result, the Carolingian empire began to unravel. While Carolingian influence lasted into the 10th century, rulers such as Charles III and Louis IV were significantly weaker than their 9th century counterparts and their writ did not cover as extensive a territory as did their predecessors.
Carolingian and other royal control survived most strongly in the Ile de France and central France. It eroded in other areas at different paces, the south being one of the first to fall away from royal control.
Even though the royal writ shrunk, commerce continued and there was an ongoing need for coinage to facilitate exchange. Therefore, in the face of the loss of royal coinage, regional authorities took it upon themselves to mint their own money. This gave rise in the 10th century to a new type of coinage circulating in France; feudal rather than royal coinage.
#312: Bordeaux (comté de), Guillaume-Sanche, denier, Bordeaux.
Two main distinct types of coinage emerged in the 10th century. The first was the coinage that was issued in a regional ruler’s own name and the second was coinage that was immobilized and issued in the name of a now deceased royal. In terms of surviving examples, this latter is the most extensive. An issuer would choose to immobilize an existing coinage because the familiarity of the royal coinage would help gain acceptance of the new coinage.
#313: Bordeaux (comté de), Sanche-Guillaume ou guillaume IX ?, denier, Bordeaux.
As Nicolas Mayhew, in Coinage in France from the Dark Ages to Napoleon (p.23) puts it, “The immobilization of types and legends […] arose chiefly from a wholly reasonable disinclination to change a winning formula. Once a coinage had established itself, its mint was reluctant to alter any of the outward features which may have contributed to its success.”
The lot 307 on the left indicates the type of process that shifted coinage from royal to feudal control. MEC (I-544) notes this type of coin was struck by Charles the Bald and immobilized “during the last quarter of the 9th century and continuing possibly down to the middle of the 10th.” Alfred Richard, in his Histoire des Comtes de Poitou, Tome I (778-993) sheds some helpful light on how royal control eroded. The key players are Eudes and Charles III from the royal perspective and Aymar (892-902) and Eble (902-935) as counts of Poitou. This was a period when royal control was unraveling and comital control asserting itself.
Just as Eudes was in conflict with Charles III, Aymar and Eble were in conflict with each other over succession as count of Poitou. In his conflict with Charles, Eudes sought the allegiance of members of the nobility. Aymar, who controlled Poitou, supported Eudes. There was a quid pro quo involved in this process. One was recognizing greater independence and relinquishing minting control. Richard (96) observes “Eudes … par la reconnaissance d’Aymar mis fin aux velléités d’independence des comtes de Poitou, il ne parait pas toutefois avoir exercé sur le pays une autorité assez directe pour y faire prévaloir le monnayage à son nom, qu’il avait imposé à Bourges, à Limoges et à Toulouse.”
Eudes relinquished control of minting. Once gone, the royals did not recapture it.
#308: Poitou (comté de), au type de Charles le Simple, denier immobilisé, Melle, s.d. (c.950-980).
This group of coins offers a variety of both royal immobilized and regional ruler types of 10th century feudal coinage. Here are some general observations about this type of coinage:
- Feudal coinage represented an evolution in style rather than a revolution.
- There continued to be a reliance on Carolingian motifs – the use of a central monogram or a temple design.
- While the Carolingians faded from the scene, the role of the Church remained strong, as evidenced by the continued use of the cross, present on all these coins with the exception of Medard.
- Coinage in the name of a specific ruler developed most clearly on the periphery – in the south and in Normandy.
- Immobilized coins in the name of a royal tended to be in the name of the last ruler to have minted at that location.
- There were two eligible medieval players capable of participating in the development of feudal coinage and they both did. There were coins from individual rulers (counts and viscounts) and from ecclesiastical sources (abbeys and dioceses). It would be some time before municipal coinage appeared.
- Most feudal mints represented here were initially royal mints. Brioude is the exception.
- It is interesting to note the widely variable history of different mints. Some operated continuously while some had large gaps in production.